Will Crowdfunding Books Replace Author Advances and Further Empower Readers?

A curious meme is spreading through the world of books: crowdfunding.

Indie authors are flocking to sites that allow them to create fundraising pages for their book projects. It’s a beautiful and simple idea: have your readers fund your next book directly in exchange for intimate access to the process as well as exclusive goodies available at various pledge levels.

Kickstarter is the most recognizable platform.

Kickstarter’s premise is “a new way to fund and follow creativity.” According to them, “Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.”

Supporting indie authors isn’t their only mission. But it is a prominent inclusion, and authors are taking advantage of it. Frank Chimero is one such author. His book project, The Shape of Design, attracted 2,109 backers and earned $112,159 USD, crushing his pledge goal of $27,000 USD. Wow!

Frank may be an outlier. So consider Robin Sloan, who’s Robin writes a book project compelled 570 backers to donate a total of $13,942 USD, dwarfing his original pledge goal of $3,500 USD. A solid success.

Kickstarter may be the big fish in the crowdfunding sea, but it’s not the only fish.

Enter Unbound.

Unbound is both crowdfunding platform and publisher. Wired Magazine heralds Unbound as “a sort of Kickstarter for books – specifically for established and emerging authors keen to experiment with a new publishing model.”

Unbound does have differences from Kickstarter beyond just its niche focus. ReadWrite highlights the prominent ones, including a closed submission process, unpublicized crowdfunding goals for projects and profit sharing with authors if their books go to publication.

And then there’s PUBSLUSH (update: Pubslush closed and opened Publaunch), the latest crowdfunding fish to enter the waters.

PUBSLUSH’s chief distinction from its friends is its humanitarian commitment to global literacy. Their cause is thus: “for every book sold a book will be donated to a child in need.”

Beyond their heartwarming mission, PUBSLUSH is a legit operation as a full-service publisher powered by their own crowdfunding model. Authors, like Bethany Parks, are taking notice.

These crowdfunding platforms are red-hot. I doubt it’s a trend that will lose steam soon, if ever.

That makes me wonder: is this the future of funding books?

Yes, and no.

The current crowdfunding models are subtly different but share a common formula: (1) author has book concept -> (2) author pitches book concept -> (3) readers fund book concept (if they like it).

I love this model. It’s widely adoptable, scalable, social and fair. I hope it gains greater relevance in the future. I’m sure it will.

But this is just the beginning.

Consider this: what if you flipped the formula?

What if this formula went: (1) readers want book concept -> (2) readers commission book concept -> (3) author writes book (in exchange for the gross commission).

What if a platform existed that facilitated this new formula: where a reader could suggest a book concept for commission, other readers to jump on board and fund it too, specific authors could be suggested for the commission, and those authors could accept (or decline) those commissions.

I believe reader commissioned books are a next great leap forward in the new book economy. It seems right as a natural evolution of the crowdfunding models in place today. And it further empowers the rising influence of readers.

Maybe, with his model, and enough supporters, JK Rowling could be persuaded to write another Harry Potter book. One can dream.